Not all trips are made the same; I think that we can probably all agree with that. While I personally enjoy any travel experience, I know that some are a little more special than others. That’s not necessarily due to the tangibles, but rather the intangibles. Those special moments and experiences that elevate a trip into something that is truly life altering. Well before embarking on my extraordinary safari in Tanzania with the legendary luxury travel provider Abercrombie & Kent I thought that the experience would be just such a journey, but now that I’m back home I can say without a doubt that it was one of the most personally enriching experiences of my life. I’ve only just returned and need to continue to think about the trip, but I thought I’d share these initial thoughts and impressions of my time in Tanzania as told through a few photos and stories.
Elephants in Tarangire
On the first full day of our safari experience we drove from Arusha to Tarangire National Park, home to the luxury tented camp Sanctuary Swala. Along the way we enjoyed a game drive in a park most famous for its elephants. Living up to expectations, we encountered our first herd of elephants almost immediately and looking back at that experience, it was one of my favorite from the entire trip. The great thing about taking a Tailor Made trip with Abercrombie & Kent is that there was no one else with us, which meant we could do and see what we wanted, when we wanted. With that in mind, we spent nearly half an hour watching these beautiful animals, clearly entranced by their every movement and gentle signs of affection with each other. It was a special moment and set the stage for the amazing trip that was to come.
Sanctuary Retreats – Swala Luxury Tented Camp
I had never stayed in a luxury tented camp and wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I knew though that Sanctuary is amongst the best in the world when it comes to bringing people as close to the African bush as possible, all in high luxury. I wasn’t disappointed either, immediately the incredible service showed me that this was not your average accommodation, a fact proven true by a walk around camp. Our tent was camping in name only – permanently tented camps at Sanctuary are large and airy rooms, equipped with everything you’d expect from any great luxury hotel. The star of Swala though was the lounge and dining areas, overlooking a watering hole and the beautiful grasslands of Tarangire. Sitting there in the morning sipping coffee and watching my first sunrise over the Tanzanian bush was extraordinary and instantly made me a Sanctuary convert.
Not only one of the not extraordinary natural preserves in Tanzania, but the entire world, this 12-mile wide crater is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with good reason. Spending the night on the rim high overhead, we descended first thing in the morning and almost immediately the treasure trove of wildlife made itself known. Thanks to the near-perfect conditions inside the crater itself, there’s almost always food and water available, which means the animals just stay there. For visitors a veritable natural zoo is the result, and during our day driving around the crater we saw everything from rhinos and elephants to lions and more zebras and wildebeest than I thought could ever possibly exist. But the Crater is also beautiful in its own right, showing me a lush and tropical side to Tanzania that I simply didn’t know existed.
Expert Care With Our Abercrombie & Kent Guide
The mark of any great luxury travel experience can’t be found in the trappings, but in the service. This is the one element that not only transforms a trip into something extraordinary, but it can’t be faked; either it exists or it doesn’t. We spent the week with our indefatigable guide Ima who not only is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, but one of the most incredible professionals I’ve ever had the great pleasure of meeting. He took the best care of us imaginable, not only through his incredible expertise when it comes to game drives and wildlife, but in smaller details, like making sure there was always Diet Coke for me in the truck’s mini-fridge. He did things for us I didn’t even know about at the time and in true door-to-door service, he even literally put our bags on the small plane that flew us back to Arusha. It’s this service that is the hallmark of the Abercrombie & Kent experience and one of the most important details in what was an extraordinary journey.
One of the indigenous tribes of Tanzania, the Maasai people played a much larger role in my trip than I would have imagined before leaving home. At every camp and even hotel, they were on hand to serve as night watchman to protect the areas from unwanted animal intrusions and to escort us back to our tents and rooms after each evening meal. But the real education into their fascinating culture came during a short visit to a Maasai village. Yes, the experience is a common one and pretty touristy, but being there and not just learning about culture but how they live every day made a strong impression on me. This isn’t Disneyland, many Maasai still live very traditional lives and in levels of poverty that I found shocking at times. It was a wake up call to me that while I was on this amazing trip, that it’s also crucial to not only learn about the local communities visited, but to try to find ways to give back as well.
I’m not sure when I first heard the word “Serengeti” but I was very young and for years it seemed to be an almost mythical place in a land so far away that surely I’d never visit. So that morning when we first entered this massive National Park, I found myself pinching my leg just to make sure it was all real. And I wasn’t disappointed either. Aside from the natural beauty of the Serengeti, which means Endless Plains in Swahili, we enjoyed some of the best animal experiences of the entire trip. Cheetahs relaxing after making a kill, the Great Migration and dozens of other wildlife sightings made the few days spent there a perfect trip for an animal lover like myself. But more than anything, the Serengeti will be defined for me by this image, a simple one but also a capture that I think speaks to the delicate beauty of the region.
Where Luxury and Wildlife Meet
The last stop on our safari, I was very much looking forward to my stay at the legendary Four Seasons Serengeti thanks to its reputation as one of the best resorts in the world. After a few minutes I began to understand why when I entered my room and this was the view with which I was met. Enjoying a private, infinity plunge pool on the veranda of my room, I had full view of the watering hole directly in front of the hotel’s larger infinity pool. Attracting all sorts of wildlife, that afternoon it was a large family of elephants who decided to stop by for a drink and within minutes they were all slowly sauntering past my room, offering an experience of a lifetime for me. That’s probably what I loved most about my brief stay at the hotel, it’s part of the Serengeti itself. Built into the bush with great care, there are no fences or gates which means the wildlife come and go as they please. It’s totally safe, but it also provides completely unique experiences like this one.
Hot Air Balloon
Looking back at it now, I couldn’t think of a better way to end our safari in Tanzania than with the hot air balloon ride we enjoyed over the Serengeti. Getting up at 4am is never easy, but almost right away I knew it was well worth missing a few hours of sleep. Watching the fiery sunrise over the plains, we caught sight of lions eating breakfast, hundreds of hippos lounging in the water and we even had the chance to fly low over part of the Great Migration. It was a perfect morning and encapsulated everything I loved about my entire safari experience in one morning’s excursion.
I have so much more to say and share about this extraordinary safari in Tanzania with Abercrombie & Kent, but I thought I’d start my coverage with these first, very rough thoughts and impressions on what was a travel experience of a lifetime.